So former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has penned a personal tale. How apt that it should come out now, what with the Polanski dramatisation of Robert Harris’ The Ghost Writer, itself a narrative constructed on a former British prime minister accused of violating humanitarian law. Had Harris been a touch more sycophantic, he might well have volunteered for this task.
Here, the public is treated to A Journey: My Political Life. Much of it is a program of familiarity: illiberal on law and order, regretful of such policy decisions as the ban on fox hunting and the introduction of a Freedom of Information regime, insentient on the cause of global terrorism, and immoveable on the use of military force in the name of regime change. Blair is nothing if not consistent on that score, though one might be forgiven for ignoring his initial phase of governance, one which saw the introduction of civil partnerships and the minimum wage. Blair Mark I was certainly a better brand than Mark II, when Bush, god and Iraq intervened to scupper the record.
He continues to trenchantly insist that the invasion of Iraq was a correct decision and would happily repeat the formula against Iran. For that reason, a cyberspace campaign has been waged against the autobiography, attempting to move it into the ‘crime’ section of book shops. The ubiquitous Facebook networking site hosts a group, ‘Subversively move Tony Blair’s memoirs to the crime section in books shops.’ Ditto Twitter, with a Viz Top Tips tweet making a similar suggestion: ‘Brighten up your day by moving at least one of Tony Blair’s books to the crime section of your local book shop.’ Irrespective of which section the book is to be found it, it is unlikely to affect sales. In fact, sales of A Journey have dwarfed all that has come before it.
As for his long time colleague, sparring partner, successor and bête noire, Gordon Brown, the reaction is familiar. A backhand is delivered against his successor’s financial record. ‘We should have taken a New Labour way out of the economic crisis: kept direct taxes competitive, had a gradual rise in VAT and other indirect taxes to close the deficit, and used the crisis to push further and faster on reform.’ Added to this is another bruising claim: that it was he, not Brown, who was responsible for granting control of interest rates to the Bank of England.
At heart, Blair is somewhat despotic, a believer in a particular Labour ideology he re-branded as ‘New’, streamlined and modern. The subtext: don’t follow it at your peril. It was that reason, amongst others, that he kept Brown out for so long, changing his mind in 2003 on not quitting before the next general election. ‘It was never who occupied the position,’ he explained to Andrew Marr earlier this month, ‘but what we did with it’ (Daily Telegraph, Sep 4). And that position, as the book describes, involved such moments as the scrapping of Clause IV of the Labour Party, a clause originally drafted by Sidney Webb in November 1917 that implied a ‘basis of common ownership’ by workers of ‘the means of production, distribution and exchange’. How times have changed.
The old Labour guard proved jittery on the release of the book, and would not condone the Blair programme mentioned in the Postscript (a tribute to debt reduction, law and order issues and ‘reforms’ of the public sector). The timing of the publication may have another purpose: to enable Blair to exert his share of influence over the leadership contest. Conservative columnists were more impressed, and Matthew D’Ancona of the Daily Telegraph (Sep 4) and former editor of The Spectator was taken with Blair’s coalition building, an exercise in political promiscuity that became a ‘Big Tent’ and set the scene for David Cameron’s own political arrangements. All Blair’s roads lead, eventually, to government led by a Conservative Prime Minister.
BINOY KAMPMARK was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org